Browncast episode 194: Caste, Hindus in America and Hinduphobia


On this episode of the Brown Pundits Browncast I had a long conversation with  Nikunj Trivedi and Pushpita Prasad of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. One of the things we talked extensively about during this podcast is the Carnegie Endowment study Social Realities of Indian Americans: Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey. The survey is rich with data that might surprise (for example, there are as many Bengali speakers as Punjabi speakers in the US, though I suspect this might be due to many ethnic Punjabis putting Hindi down as their mother tongue). But for the purposes of this episode, we were interested in caste identity, and how it relates to Hindus in America.

The Carnegie study takes a shot at the 2018 Equality Labs survey that argues for the pervasiveness of caste discrimination:

A 2018 survey of 1,500 South Asian Americans found that many low-caste members of numerous diaspora communities had endured firsthand experience of caste discrimination. However, the study is not based on a representative sample, raising questions about the generalizability of its findings.

The figure above shows that most Hindu Indian Americans do not live in a caste-homogeneous environment. There are reasons for this. From the text:

Forty-seven percent of Hindu respondents report identifying with a caste, which means the majority (53 percent) said that they do not personally identify with a caste group of any kind. However, there is marked variation by place of birth. Whereas 53 percent of foreign-born Hindu Indian Americans affiliate with a caste group, 34 percent of U.S.-born Hindu Indian Americans do the same.

…Overall, there are 632 respondents in the IAAS sample who belong to the Hindu faith but only 293 who report identifying with a caste group. Of this latter group, the overwhelming majority—83 percent—categorize themselves as General or upper caste. Sixteen percent identify as a member of OBC and 1 percent each identify as Adivasi/Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Dalit/Scheduled Caste (SC).

The latter number, that about 80 percent of Hindu Indian Americans are not OBC, Dalit or Adivasi is exactly what I’ve seen in other data. But perhaps a more important aspect is that large numbers of Hindus in America don’t “affiliate” with a caste group. Some of the American-born individuals may not actually even know their caste group, though the foreign-born ones clearly know their origins as noted in the text:

Figure 21 looks more closely at the caste composition of social networks among Hindus. Seventy-four percent of Hindu respondents who report not identifying with a caste nevertheless know enough to be able to identify the caste identities of their social networks. Only 26 percent of Hindus who do not identify with a caste respond to questions about the caste composition of their social networks by answering “don’t know.” This indicates that even though a large proportion of Hindu respondents say they do not identify with a caste, only a small fraction are unaware of the caste composition of their networks.

What is also striking is how relatively small the differences are between respondents who identify with a caste versus those who do not. While the former report that a slightly higher share of their social network comprises people of the same caste, if one sets aside the “don’t know” responses, the relative differences between caste identifiers and non-identifiers is marginal. For instance, 27 percent of Hindu respondents who identify with a caste report that all or most of their Indian friends share their caste affiliation. Nineteen percent of those who do not identify with a caste group answer similarly. Respondents who acknowledge a caste identity are only slightly more likely to report that some of their social network is made up of people of the same caste (41 percent versus 33 percent for those without a caste identity).

So here is the subtle point: people who do not identify with a caste group nevertheless can often assess whether their social circle is mostly of their caste group or not. The dynamic here is that people are proactively disavowing or denying caste identity personally, but they clearly still know the provenance of their own lineage and that of their friends.

The landscape of caste and America is complex. Nevertheless, today’s social justice activists are trying to reframe it as just another black-white dichotomy, with oppressed Dalits, etc., against oppressive Brahmins.

Finally, we discuss the casual and not-so-casual anti-Hindu comments that are spreading across mainstream discourse. For example, an organization at UC Davis called the Other Collective has said some really bizarre things about Diwali:

33 thoughts on “Browncast episode 194: Caste, Hindus in America and Hinduphobia”

  1. While I fancy myself an anti-caste activist and a Dravidianist myself, it is indeed quite unfortunate that the anti-caste movement (or the portions of it that have gained currency in the US) has been hijacked by these far-left lunatics.

    The first clue that these people have no clue what the f*ck they’re talking about is the fact that they include Muslims along with Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis in their statement. What the hell do Muslims have to do with Hindu caste oppression? Muslims as a whole were never systematically discriminated against in Indian society on the mere basis of being Muslims, in fact on the contrary many of them were among the most privileged members of Indian society – royalty, zamindars, rich merchants. In fact in most cases historically upper-caste Hindus and Sikhs were far more likely to accept a marriage with an upper-caste Muslim than with a lower-caste Hindu or Sikh. See the Muslim Rajputs for an example of this. The primary locus of identity in premodern Indian society was always CASTE, not religion, language, ethnicity, or anything else.

    Also what the hell is this savarna term? Shudras are savarna.

    “Nevertheless, today’s social justice activists are trying to reframe it as just another black-white dichotomy, with oppressed Dalits, etc., against oppressive Brahmins.”

    There is in my opinion some utility to this comparison (purity/pollution, genetic stratification and strict endogamy, appeals to a natural or divinely ordained social hierarchy, etc.) , but again the issue is when people who don’t what on Earth they’re talking suddenly start explaining how caste is really about colorism and how anti-Dalit prejudice is ackshually “anti-blackness” or other such silliness.

    1. I actually think the people know exactly what they are doing. Theyve hijacked the social justice movement to push forward their anti-hindu agenda. Notice how they call even the gods casteist. This is a similar vein to audrey truschke suddenly engaging in an all out social media blitz war against the hindus – turns out her father in law owns the largest conversion ministry in india and Modi shut it down for abuse of funds. It’s all almost entirely politically or religiously motivated so though the little dumdums on the bottom may not know much, the rest are very much complicit. Hinduism is an easy beast to beat – we don’t go bomb a place or cut off someone’s head for such insults.
      Also just want to mention that the indo-dravidian theory has been debunked, and in fact it is NOT a theory but a hypothesis and an unsubstantiated one at that.
      -a fellow indian from the south

      1. “Also just want to mention that the indo-dravidian theory has been debunked, and in fact it is NOT a theory but a hypothesis and an unsubstantiated one at that.
        -a fellow indian from the south”
        The “invasion” part was debunked, not the Aryan-Dravidian division as a whole and the fact that Aryans migrated to India from outside. Aryans being indigenous is just lousy UC Hindutvadi cope.

  2. I’m guessing the In-dee-uns in Other Collective have no real connection beyond Bollywood and Big Bling Wedding/Clothing and learn about Indian history and culture from Westerners projecting their own societies.

  3. Great conversation. A couple of observations:

    1. Why are they going after hinduism? Is it to reform it? Shut it down?

    one org in the us is not going to shut down Hinduism with a billion followers worldwide. They know it. So why are they doing it? Because they want a piece of the dei budget talking about how horrible it is.

    2. Surely someone whose parents are doctors and lawyers cannot claim to be oppressed.

    I agree completely. But the director of equality labs states every day that she was oppressed, subject to violence etc – and she was born in the us to a doctor parent, went to Berkeley. She is claiming that she is not privileged and was actually oppressed all her adult life.

    1. I think her obesity over all else will lead to worse treatment. People could give two shits about her caste or skin color. But her weight alone, despite high socioeconomic status, indicates poor discipline and likely poor health.

      If her marginalization is real to any notable degree, it is more related to self inflicted/perpetuated self esteem and weight issues.

  4. Hindus are losing pretty badly in the war of narratives. There are Hindu congresswomen/men, CEO’s and others in fairly high positions in America but almost none of them are able to create a favorable narrative. None of them are unabashedly Hindu, they almost always tend to put their religion under the wraps, as opposed to for example people like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Talib, Linda Sarsour who are proud of their Islamist ties with MB, Erdogan and Turkey. Any politicians who are unapologetically Hindu, get promptly sidelined- Tulsi Gabbard is a great example.

    Now, If you consider Islamists for example, after jihadi ideologies started provoking a violent global backlash esp after 9/11 and the ISIS, they shifted to more subtler and less violent ideologies like “Dawa”(refers to call to Islam) . The idea of “Dawa” isn’t new and was first popularized by MB.

    Take Al jazeera for example, which uploads documentaries about transgender rights on to its social media channel, while broadcasting sermons suggesting husbands should beat their wives on its Arabic station. Islamist ideologues are willing to co-operate with non-Muslim Leftists as long as it serves their purposes. Islamists, in other words, are becoming skilled at wrapping themselves in a mantle of woke words, while engaging in systematic brutality and repression within their own countries. They’ve have very cleverly woven themselves into the broader civil rights and BLM movements that started gaining momentum over the last few years by leveraging various sympathetic narratives- most primarily that of Palestinian victimhood.

    As for Hinduism, any positive aspects of the religion like Yoga, meditation etc have already been milked to death and moreover have gotten culturally appropriated by white women. Hindus, if they want to fight HinduPhobia need to learn from the others and definitely need to construct a new politically favorable narrative.

      1. See, the thing that raytas like you simply don’t understand is that there never was any unified “Hindu” identity or tradition, in the way that there exists a Muslim or Christian tradition. What we call “Hinduism” today is just an amalgam of thousands of disparate regional and caste-specific variations and derivatives of the original Vedic religion. Ironically the only common denominator was in fact probably the very adherence to varnashrama dharma that raytas like you desperately want to remove in order to garner more LC support.

        Turning Hinduism into a robust, unified confessional identity completely goes against the whole essence and point of the faith tradition, which is why you have this whole rayta-trad civil war within the Hindutva movement. “Hinduism without caste” will never happen because there is no Hinduism without caste.

        1. iranian experience of being monochromatic and getting wiped out by islam, shows that it is better to have an uneven field. even if one part falls for abrahamanic creed the others get up and resist.
          case study is the evangalical movement in andhra, which has become mainly madiga based and hence is not getting traction from other groups.

        2. Ah, finally a Hindu trad on BP. Welcome brother.

          Though there are many Hindu trads on BP, they do not come out of closet, lest they are called caste-ist. A refreshing change.

    1. ” Ilhan Omar, Rashida Talib, Linda Sarsour who are proud of their Islamist ties with MB, Erdogan and Turkey. ”

      ‘Muslim’ props of American deep state. Given how many American and allied Tomahawks land into Arab to Afghan asses, much needed help to paint a ‘diverse’ picture. Will never have teeth.

      ###

      “Palestinian victimhood”

      Israel lets people take pictures because it costs nothing, utterly humiliates Muslims (‘bhay bin hoye na preet’) and to non-Muslims it shows IDF in humane light. Israelis understand foreign people better than Al Jazeera.

      Zero people give a shit about Palestine, just like they don’t give a shit about Yemen.

      Whenever Israel faces even the slightest real danger, ‘pro-Palestinian’ sentiment in the west just vanishes.

      ###

      1. Yeah, the activism for Palestine starts and ends with hashtags, social media, some woke media channels and some random protestors on the street. It was never really more than that. Even the BDS movement is a giant failure and didn’t sell well.

        But what I was trying to get at is how cleverly Islamists have infiltrated the woke left. I’ll give you an example, Some time last year, when I was walking back home after getting off the NYC subway, I saw a huge pro Palestinian protest(this was during the height of the Israel Palestine conflict last May) where I saw them waving the LGBT, BLM and transgender flags. There were also other groups like “Queers for Palestine” 😂 etc who were protesting against “systemic oppression”. It was definitely very funny given how queers/ lesbians and the alternate lifestyle folks would be actually treated in Palestine/Gaza. This wasn’t a one off movement as I did research it online and I found various groups like CAIR(council of American Islamic relations) and other overseas Qatari charities being involved in this narrative.

        I think what this shows us is that in modern America, if you want to curry favor with the left, you need to be a victim and you need to play your victimhood card very well. All these organizations like Equality labs and Other collective are a part of that broader movement. I mean, if you really want to fight caste oppression, go and do it in the deep in the villages and hinterlands of India, never really understood the point of doing it here in the West. Most 2nd gen IA’s don’t give a flying fck about caste and first gen IA’s only care about it during arranged marriage.

        1. Dalits in the hinterlands would laugh at this woman, just looking at her. Beyond that, if they knew her idiotic Marxist retrofitting of their struggles, they would be enraged. Movements for Dalit rights need organic and genuine origins, such as those started by Dr. Ambedkar. This lady is just a race hustler, a parasitic opportunist.

    2. Exports to aid Hindu missionary work that I can think of:
      1) Yoga : Really helps people. Need vigorous work in India to appropriate every single modern physiotherapy-rehabilitation related work. Must keep up.
      2) Meditation : We rule. Will rule.
      3) Veganism/Vegetarianism/Clean-living : IAs are already outdo the Mormons.
      4) Hiking/Outdoors/Nature : Pran-pratistha or recognising Swayambhu pilgrimage sites in remote natural areas.
      5) Meaningful retirement : Vanaprastha/Sannyasa themes, old people in the west are lonely.
      6) Generosity : Goodwill of the kind Parsis have in India.

      ###

      The easy fruits of the semiconductor-software age are drying up like physics dried up in 50s, engineering dried up in 60s. ‘New and great’ are becoming orders of magnitude harder. Easy wins are all taken, the days of one man victories like Wright brothers are over. Businesses are calling themselves ‘tech-enabled’, ‘world-changing’, … to give people some meaning in life.

      Education has become convoluted. It seems being educated was never the point, feeling special about being educated was always the point. After pursuing a superficial degree, a ‘high paying’ job selling BS awaits people. As America becomes weary and old, Hinduism or Buddhism should prepare to offer solace.

      ###

      1. Hindus definitely need a new Swami Vivekanada, that’s for sure. The current crop of missionaries, organizations like ISKCON and people like Jaggi vasudev just isn’t enough.

        Care must also be taken tho popularize the lesser known but more deeper and intellectual schools of Hinduism like Advaita vedanta. It’ll definitely appeal to the broader and emerging intellectual and irreligious class of people who are fed up of Abrahamic faiths. Xtians and Islamists have brainwashed everyone into thinking that Hindus are simply pagans with a caste system and nothing else.

        Ayurveda is another avenue that can be explored

        1. These same people lament native Americans and their loss of culture. The only pagans they love are the dead ones who are a non threat. Hence the repeated attempts to break Hinduism by calling it a brahminical religion – that way certain parts of society are not indigenous to the country.
          If we spent more time in india going into villages and trying to rid ourselves of casteism, bolstering Hinduism and entirely reducing western interference like China, these people would no longer have a foothold.

  5. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cdu8C9cgyTt/
    The real family is the one’s endogamous family.People are loyal to caste not religion or anything.
    https://twitter.com/rudrabhoj/status/1537468119140409347

    If we go according to the hindu scriptures then clearly people were subjected of great discrimination.And I think it isthe longest type of discrimination after gender discrimination.
    Which still continue with great force.
    https://www.instagram.com/p/Cdu8C9cgyTt/

    It is wierd that a dalit get discriminated by his fellow Y DNA brahmin but B marry with unrealted Y dna B in the name of ‘lineage’.

    We are just following SOTF principle thats all.

    1. The way some of these “Trads” think, especially old school feudal lords, like the one whose twitter you linked, is disturbing. Sad these views exist still in mainstream conversation of some old elites. People need to openly admonish and denounce this type of stuff as much as possible.

      Most of discrimination follows steppe:AASI ratio, when contextualizing region. There is a reason beyond money lending that even “baniyas” receive a crap ton of hate from many of the Zamindari classes.

      Education about genetics is paramount. I think I differ with some people on solutions. Yes, I see the problem being present for awhile. And I accept more AASI people were generally at the bottom of societal privilege and treated badly historically. But proposed solutions that amount to positive discrimination only help a few elites of the more AASI groups and just breed a broader resentment overall, leading to a net negative consequence for social cohesion and meritocratic progress.

      I think stressing the common bonds of humanity and stressing the dangers of caste is important. But the “revenge” attitude of many of the so called “activists” is toxic. It won’t help the people they want to help. It will at best lead to some personal brownie points for themselves from Western SJWs.

      1. “But proposed solutions that amount to positive discrimination only help a few elites of the more AASI groups and just breed a broader resentment overall, leading to a net negative consequence for social cohesion and meritocratic progress.”

        The policy of the Indian state wrt to positive discrimination policy fundamentally is based on the assumption that caste as a marker of social identity, and as a basis for networking and communal organization, is a permanent reality of Indian social life. Appeals to individualism and personal merit fall flat in a rigidly caste-based society. Everyone wants to make sure that their tribe gets its piece of the pie. And as long as caste remains a fact of Indian life, the state agrees that it has a responsibility to mitigate and counterbalance the worst aspects of the system.

        Frankly until I see intercaste marriages increase significantly, I am inclined to agree with the stance of the Indian government on this issue. This is why I can never take any of these trad Hindutva types seriously when they complain about reservations.

        1. I mean how are community networks going to radically alter exam scores, unless there is corruption in the release of questions. Meritocracy via well made exams is key. And resources to prepare for these should be subsidized. The issue is admitting people entire standard deviations different, based on group identity. I think that’s where the issues start. But yes, caste networks are a huge problem. But admissions picture based on exams, shouldn’t have caste as a big factor.

          1. Back in the day there was this Chinese website called chasedream forums leaked all gmat questions so English speakers at a disadvantage.

            Probably still happens but not along caste lines.

            Probably happens more in non English speaking countries with closed off internet.

        2. @ronanki
          ICM are of 2 types
          1-where 2 community have understanding .(Mosts UC-UC marriages)
          2-where they donot have understanding or establishing relation will change nothing in positive.(2nd one is what we see in india The bride get absord in groom’s identity)
          I say brahmin woman,bania woman,muslim woman,dalit woman are oxymorons .Even subcastes women are oxymoron.

          https://imgur.com/a/oA4d2x4
          Brams worried that banias are taking their beautiful girls just like muslims are doing.And in retaliation some are saying they have lots of bania Gf s too.There boys are becoming lazy ,and act like gujjars.
          I think these people do not marry outside their community but those who marry subconsiously carry foward the same game.
          They simp day and night to muslim,white,even beautiful dalit women but will kill if their women honestly love someone outside.Women cannot even simp.
          who say male privilage doesnt exist?Can a women say I will f*ck my enemy men and produce my offspring,lol.

          https://imgur.com/a/aiYpg3l something in random,here a ‘pundit’ terrorizing to dalit in worst way possible.Others do littlebit same but not casually.

          @thewarlock I belive education can work ,but these people are best educated
          and speak fluent english.I believe basic understanding of correct religion and science can change things up to good extent.its funny as well as sad that core philosophy of hinduism is in opposition of such believes.

          Who is Mudha [the ignorant]? He who has the egoistic conception of the body, Caste, orders
          of life, actor, enjoyer and others. [Niralamba Upanishad
          Sukla Yajur Veda-Verse 33]
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajrasuchi_Upanishad

  6. religious Autonomy, organization are necessary. Second, most of the networking historically was along caste, continues to be so in India. third, Most believe in debates/dialogues/individualism.
    Basically lazy to come together as a community. They came to usa on basis of their “skills”. Dealing with things on their own/ A bit like trying to herd cats. In facing prejudice, perhaps they might come together. After all, it never mattered to them until now. If you believe ignorance is bliss, and reject reality, it will come back to haunt you. ignorance , denial of reality, stupidity on social front comes with consequences. Now , lets see how they use their intelligence and skills.

  7. ‘The latter number, that about 80 percent of Hindu Indian Americans are not OBC, Dalit or Adivasi is exactly what I’ve seen in other data.’

    Many OBC groups don’t identify themselves as OBC since they moved to US before reservations hit in the 90s. Plus lot of them are not ‘treated’ as OBC both in India and US. So they ‘think’ that they are not OBC. Examples are Jats, Marathas and Patels.

    Pretty sure these 3 groups are more than 20 percent of Indian Americans pops

    1. I mean it is tricky. What constitutes a “forward caste” in a true sense. My understanding was that the intention of designations was as follows:

      Forward Caste= those that have socioeconomic power

      OBC= non dalit without much socioeconomic power

      Dalits= those from groups historically ostracized from any societal roles other than those deemed “unclean” aka sanitation etc.

      Tribals= outside of equation but poor due to lack of development of areas

      I think some people equate Forward Caste with Upper Caste. I don’t think this makes sense, precisely for the reason you brought up and an additional one. For example, in some states Khatris and Jats are really OBCs with economic status. But in Punjab and Haryana, they are dominant groups, regardless of ritual status or percent of steppe.

      I think main point is that of overall socioeconomic status to make forward vs. OBC distinction.

      Based on that type of framing, most Indian Americans descend from groups that are largely middle to upper class in India. Yes some of the upper caste can come from a “poor” Brahmin family. But actually, given India’s historically low living standards in recent history, many of these “poor” were actually middle class.

      If you look at socioeconomic paradigm of forward caste, what I believe was original intent, then yes probably 80% of IAs are from forward castes.

    2. OBC is purely an Indian affirmative action / reservation category.

      Gujarati patels, haryanvi Jats, and 96k Marathas objectively don’t have OBC affirmative actions
      status.

      So it’s not that we don’t think they aren’t OBC we simply aren’t for affirmative action purposes.

      Just one of many diverse middle caste communities in India with varying socioeconomic and political status.

      1. yeah but all of that designation was based on socioeconomic status, not ritual caste status. Yes correlation is there but it is imperfect

  8. OBC is a meaningless term except within the parameters of Indian government social policy. It is entirely meaningless in the US.
    If Patels or Jats are not backward in India or the US they are not backward; that is not just a tautology. It means that Indians in the US who insist on categorizing Americans with that term are not merely casteist, their mental life is lived in India.
    If, as we now know, the caste system is not a radical division into ethnic groups, and if the various castes (except the Dalits) are very similar ethnically, then the whole religiously inspired mumbo jumbo of caste is best discarded in any discussion of Indians in the US. It is not, anthropologically useful, apart from being socially divisive. If Brahmins are descended from the head and Shudras from the feet, where are Arabs, Chinese and Europeans descended from. This whole silly categorization breaks down outside of India. That is why, no doubt, Hindus were prohibited from crossing the sea. The strictly ordered social nonsense could not survive outside India.
    If on the other hand there is an ethnic basis to the caste system then Hindutva theory breaks down about the Aryans. So how do Jats have more steppe dna than Brahmins, but get classed as OBCs, especially when they are socially and economically dominant. And if Steppe dna matters are Muslim invaders superior to Brahmins in a hierarchy.
    I recommend to the confused dabblers on caste theory on this site to overcome their ingrained prejudices and try to live like modern humans in the US, and not the equivalent of Southern rednecks and racists.

  9. Caste system in Hindu Society is not an inherent system of Hindu Thought. According to Vedas all human beings have been categorised according their professions and not by birth. These are known as Varnas. There are four categories in which
    human beings can be divided, they are called four Varṇas – Brāhmin,
    Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. These Varnas are based on the activities undertaken by a person and not by birth. It is mentioned in Vedas that all persons are born Shudra and a person is categorized in a particular Varna according to the activities he pursues. The person who studies Scriptures, gains knowledge and utilizes his knowledge to guide
    and serve others is called Brāhmin. Spiritual Guru, Teacher, Performer of Religious Rites, Doctor, Lawyer, Artist, Singer etc. come under this category. The person who manages and/or defends the Country and the society, is called Kshatriya, e.g., administrators, Judges, Soldiers, Police etc. The person who produces or trades commodities is called Vaishya, e.g. farmer, industrialist, trader, shop keeper etc. Any person who is not capable of doing any of the above works and earns his
    livelihood by serving others comes under the Varna of Shudra. These
    Varnas are neither superior nor inferior to each other. All of them are
    equal and are complimentary to each other and have been created to
    maintain social order. According to Vedas all human beings are the
    progeny of Aditi – the mother of gods, and all of them are considered equal. No human being is inferior or untouchable. A person is to be considered of a particular Varna according to the activities he is doing irrespective of the family he is born in. Whatever distortions in the name of caste or untouchability are found in Hindu society today are because of some influential and selfish persons who wanted to keep weaker sections of society as their servants. Such distortions are not mentioned in any of the Scriptures. Such system is basically economic. In today’s society such systems are waning out fast. Today all the government officers, high salaried persons, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, persons in higher income groups and the like are respected in the society like others. Government policies have changed the whole scenario.

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